A Response to John Piper on Catholicism

A Response to John Piper on Catholicism January 1, 2019

When dealing with Protestant criticisms, us Catholics are often met with a high level of smug cynicism. While they are often well-meaning in their pursuit for truth and sharing the Gospel, it can often be challenging to respond to fundamentally dishonest allegations in a charitable fashion.

Meet John Piper

John Piper is a Calvinist and prominent figure in America’s network of pastor-celebrities. He is probably one of the most outspoken opponents to Catholic theology in modern times. He often takes a jab at Catholicism in his writing, videos and podcasts associated with his founding ministry Desiring God while promoting a ‘friendly’ Calvinist narrative on Scripture.

As a former Protestant myself, I have no doubt many have come to faith in Christ through Piper’s work. In fact, there are several articles of his that I wholeheartedly agree with and would share with others who would benefit from them. But ecumenicalism aside, I believe Catholics ought to always be prepared to give an answer whenever false allegations cross our path.

The brief YouTube clip of an interview summarizes Piper’s view on Catholicism in a nutshell. When asked what he would say to the Pope if he were to meet him in person, he answers:

“One minute: explain your view of justification. And on the basis of his one minute, I would give my view of justification. I think Rome and Protestantism are not yet ready. I don’t think the Reformation is over. I don’t think that enough changes have happened in Roman understanding of justification and a bunch of other things. I’m just picking justification because it’s so close to the centre. You could pick papal authority or the nature of the Mass; or the role of Sacraments or the place of Mary. But those seem to be a maybe little more marginal than go right to the heart of the issue of… do you teach, uh, whatever you call him… ‘sir?’ Do you teach that we should rely entirely on the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith alone as the ground of God being 100 percent for us after which necessary sanctification comes. You teach that? And if he said, ‘No we don’t,’ I’d say I think that’s that, right at the core of Roman Catholic theology, is a heresy. Something like that.”

‘My View’ or ‘God’s View?’

To be fair, just about every Christian denomination (including Catholicism) likes to lay claim to being the truest church. But the underlying problem in Piper’s statement lies in two fatal words: ‘my view.’ Piper, whether he realizes it or not, speaks from his own interpretive bias, which is a common symptom of the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone).

The heart of the issue does not lie in Piper’s blurred definition of justification versus sanctification, but rather in the issue of authority. In which case, Piper assumes his pastoral authority in having the right interpretation of what the Bible says about salvation based on Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide (Faith alone) – which, in themselves, are unbiblical when taking the entire context of the Bible as a whole.

If I was on the receiving end of his ‘one-minute’ question, I would say, ‘Yes. The Catholic Church does teach we rely on the righteousness of Christ by faith, but not by faith alone. Why not? Because even the demons believe in Jesus, and shudder (James 2:19). The narrative he establishes is based off the presumption that faith alone (Sola Fide) is the only infallible means of justification derived from the Bible – to which the only place in Scripture where ‘faith alone’ is explicitly mentioned is in James 2:24,

“You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

I will agree with Piper that Rome and Protestantism are not yet ready to unite because of the fact that there are Protestants who still militantly believe the Reformation is not over. It is to be expected he wouldn’t believe enough changes have been made in Catholic theology. People like Mr. Piper will never be satisfied until the Vatican either recants every doctrine or suffers God’s wrath at the Second Coming.

Heresy According To Who?

Piper later clarifies his use of the big H-word in a follow-up article,

“Heresy” is a strong word. The problem with it is that its meaning and implications are not clear. Dictionary.com defines heresy, for example, as:

  1. opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, especially of a church or religious system.
  2. any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.

If ‘Faith Alone’ is the standard for justification, Catholic theology is definitely at variance with Calvinism’s supposed infallible orthodoxy. To which I’d have to question what makes a product of a 16th-century political revolt the standard for truth? The Catholic Church has been wrestling with these theological issues long before the Reformation even started. I’ve written a 7-part article on why Calvinism is a deviation from biblical Christianity, which can be found here.

I, myself, hate tossing around the big H-word, but if the heart of Roman Catholic theology is a heresy to John Piper, it is only based on his own biased exegesis influenced by Calvinism and not on objective truth. In summary, Piper might as well have sported a papal tiara and spoke ex cathedra from his own chair.


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  • radheswar wary

    Anything n everything need not be countered. Be like Shepherds who first received the good tidings……..

  • Interesting article. I hear you and relate on so many levels. I’m a former Mormon Apologist, as well as a former Calvinist Apologist, and have seen how various beliefs, teachings, and doctrines are misrepresented within the realm of conversation.

    I also agree with you regarding the observation of the narrow stance people take (not just Calvinists, other modern Christian’s ) regarding Sola Scriptura. Many times, and my own lesson learned here, is we tend to interpret scripture in our present belief perception and biased schema.

    Recently, I was engaged in a conversation with someone regarding the difference between living out a Christian life from a doctrinal perspective, or living a Christian life from a more mindful and spiritual perspective. Some took issue with that and attempted to “reason” that this is not in the Scripture. I ended the conversation by saying:

    “Look, I am able to show where the Bible teaches Calvinism and Pre-destination. I am also able to show that the Bible does not teach Pre-destination, and support the Arminian doctrine and teachings. Likewise, I am able to point to the Bible and show how it contradict’s itself. I am also able to point to and show the Bible is consistent and in harmony with itself. I am capable of pointing to verses that Support Mormonism and Mormon Teaching; as well as point to and show how the Bible condemns Mormonism.”

    I then summed it up like this:

    “The reality is that God is not going to sit there and judge us whether we belonged to this Church, or That Church. He is not going to judge us if we have the right or wrong doctrinal teaching. What he will judge us on is if we lived our lives that reflect His love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness toward others. He will judge us on the charitable works we engage in. Because, he will judge us as whether or not we represented and mirrored the example of Christ. ”

    I believe many within Christianity have lost sight of the kernal of truth that is simple: Live in harmony and walk in spirit and truth with Jesus Christ.

  • Thank you so much for your charitable feedback! You make an awesome point, too, that pretty much any theological argument can be supported by citing ‘pet verses’ without considering the entire Bible in context.

    If you are open to share, I would love to hear your story of how you journeyed out of Mormonism (since that’s a denomination I am very unfamiliar with). Feel free to send me an email or a message on Facebook!

    Thanks again for reading and commenting! God bless!

  • The fact that a Calvinist in this day and age would choose to question this Pope on justification instead of basic integrity and living what he preaches, just tells me that in the ideological bubble that is calvinism there are a lot of abused children waiting to file lawsuits.

  • Joris Heise

    Holy Moley. Justification by faith, sola Scripura, sola fides? these seem to me to be arguing angels on the head of a pin!! As my own faith has grown so that I acknowledge the many, many “venn diagrams” of overlapping words, ideas, and layers of myth, fiction, truth, and facts–I think this argument by Piper and the defenses against his views just seem so irrelevant today. (the participants may enjoy the playing and tennis-like banter.)
    . The Body of Christ is the Eucharist–which is not (so much) the result of a sorcerer-induced verbiage by an ordinatus (though that is a legitimate left-over from another time and place), as it is the reality of the Person of Jesus present in humans present (sic), the resurrected One now grasped and true in functioning of diverse limbs of the One Body–Catholic and not-“Catholic.” We are the Body. Justification is not a mechanical arm by which one reaches our Father, and our Father reaches us–but the reality of our loving God who hugs us–sinful, mistaken, selective, flawed, and cabin’d, cribbed and confined each in our part of the universe–each in response to the love one receives as a Child of God. Faith isa dynamic seed, justice and justification are all the the parts–the way a car moves because it has wheels, gas, motor, driver, etc–and IS faith and loving and integrity and mutual respect and awe. And humility Justification is a whole concatenation of character traits with love as the driving force (pardon the pun)–mutual love between Father and child/Child.
    I am a Catholic by tradition and by faith and by reason. Here I stand, and cannot do otherwise.
    But a Tibetan ignorant of any Christian doctrine who commits himself to the Creator in cherishing his Mountains, his Prayer wheel, his fellow Tibetans and his wife and children, who is responding to being loved (as I have felt I am responding to how I have been loved)–that person is a Child of God no less–and maybe more than me–someone whom Jesus has visited, saved and shared Divine Life and grace with. And if he faked it to convert for some psychological, social, political or natural motive–he would be a dead soul Jesus condemns.
    I wish Piper and his adversaries will meet merrily with me in heaven (during our lifetime–the kingdom of heaven is present), and we can discuss the Greatest Commandment, the necessary selectivity involved in reading Scripture, the role of the Spirit/attitude/outlook of Jesus today. Faith is to discover the invisibles–love, in particular–that link lives to lives–and is therefore part of my writing here–to link the love of God between us via the truth that lies beyond words, eyes, ears and time–and, as I said above, faith involves links to a whole vast universe of facets and dimensions of our souls.